Global carbon emissions from agriculture can be reduced by 50 to 90 percent by 2030 using strategies including eating less beef, reducing food waste and managing soil nutrients better, according to a report released Friday by Climate Focus and California Environmental Associates.
Illustrative image. – File photo
If all the strategies recommended were implemented, up to 5 gigatons of emissions could be eliminated from the agriculture sector, the equivalent of removing all the cars in the world, the two groups said.
The report, titled Strategies for Mitigating Climate Change in Agriculture, looked at both food consumption and production.
It found that agriculture is responsible for roughly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions and that about 70 percent of direct greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture come from livestock, in particular from cows, sheep and other grazing animals.
Considering beef's immense share of livestock carbon emissions, six times greater than poultry on a per unit basis, much of these emissions could be eliminated if beef demand were reduced, said the report.
"I realize that the question of whether or not the diets of any population can be changed is a difficult one," co-author of the study Amy Dickie of California Environmental Associates told Xinhua.
"However, it is clear that it is important to try given the very large climate footprint of meat. We will learn a lot in experimentation," she added.
Convincing the Americans and Chinese to eat less beef is of particular importance, the report said.
The U.S. is already beginning to consume less beef but still remains the world's biggest consumers of red meat, it said. Per capita beef consumption in the country dropped from its peak of 88. 8 pounds (about 40.3 kilograms) in 1976 to 58.7 pounds (about 26.6 kilograms) in 2009, still excessive by global standards, the report said.
On the other hand, an increasingly wealthy China is estimated to ramp up its red meat consumption by 116 percent by 2050, it said.
"While the study recommends a reduction in beef consumption in general, the focus in China rests on the avoidance of future diet shifts," co-author Charlotte Streck of Climate Focus told Xinhua.
"We are not recommending an abandonment of meat in general, just the reduction of the consumption to healthy levels as well as preference for pork and poultry over beef," she noted.
If the Chinese population were to adopt the beef consumption habits of the Western hemisphere, this would not only lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, but also in health costs in China, not to speak of the loss of a traditionally rich and healthy cuisine, Streck warned.
Eliminating food waste could also "put a major dent" in agricultural emissions, said the report, as some 40 percent of all food is lost as it travels from farm to table.
In China and the U.S., portion sizes in restaurants and catering should be slimmed down, while in Southeast Asia and Sub- Saharan Africa, improving cooling and storage practices would prevent spoilage and food losses, it said.
On production, the report suggested improving the feed of beef cattle in Brazil and milk cows in India to make the methane- spewing animals more efficient.
Meanwhile, China's excessive fertilizer usage could be cut by 30 to 60 percent without hampering production, according to the report, which also showed that most of this fertilizer is produced using coal.
"There are so many ways in which policymakers can help farmers boost productivity while mitigating climate change," Streck said. "We need to dispel the notion, once and for all, that productivity and sustainability can't work hand in hand."